Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin. Photo: Getty
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Harsher penalties for drivers who use mobiles at the wheel under consideration

The number of penalty points awarded could be doubled to six, as the Transport Secretary says he wants to address the "appalling" number of road casualties caused by drivers using phones.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has suggested that harsher sanctions could be placed on drivers caught using their mobile phones at the wheel.

Acknowledging that Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe “has called for six penalty points for the use of a mobile phone”, the Conservative Cabinet minister said: “It is an interesting suggestion. It is one to look out for.”

He described the number of road deaths associated with driving and mobile phone use as “absolutely appalling”.

In 2011, he pointed out, mobile phone use by the driver was recorded as a contributing factor in 23 fatalities and 74 serious injuries on British roads.

“I think we’ve got to change this, we’ve got to get that message across,” he added.

In a speech at a lunch for Westminster journalists today, McLoughlin conceded that there “could be some difficulties” around the harsher sanctions and said he has “no immediate plans” to implement the stricter rules, but stressed that he was considering the option: “I want to look at that particular issue.”

In the meantime, he said he wants “to alert people to what they’re doing and that it’s a foolish thing to do.”

Discussing the government’s flagship infrastructure project, HS2, he admitted it is “controversial”, but added that it would be deemed “controversial at least until it's built and then when it’s built people will say why did you not try it before.”

The high speed route is “necessary”, he maintained, due to “capacity” issues at present.

In a wide ranging discussion, McLoughlin, a former miner and member of the National Union of Miners, defended his refusal to strike in 1984 when asked about it. He said: “There was a ballot in the area that I worked in, the Western area… and we voted 74 per cent to 26 per cent to carry on working. So I don’t think I was doing anything undemocratic.”

He went on to challenge the romanticism that has become attached to the miners’ strikes of the 1980s in the public imagination. “The thing that is most annoying about that strike is these rose tinted glasses that look back on it.”

He added: “It wasn’t so very many years ago that the last thing a father would want for his son would be to follow him down a coalmine. And I think it’s a sort of hypocrisy… that that’s the only ambition you should have for your child – to follow you down a coalmine.

“Unfortunately my father died when I was young so I never really knew him, but I don’t think he would have been overly proud if he knew that I had followed him down a coalmine.”

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.


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En français, s'il vous plaît! EU lead negotiator wants to talk Brexit in French

C'est très difficile. 

In November 2015, after the Paris attacks, Theresa May said: "Nous sommes solidaires avec vous, nous sommes tous ensemble." ("We are in solidarity with you, we are all together.")

But now the Prime Minister might have to brush up her French and take it to a much higher level.

Reuters reports the EU's lead Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, would like to hold the talks in French, not English (an EU spokeswoman said no official language had been agreed). 

As for the Home office? Aucun commentaire.

But on Twitter, British social media users are finding it all très amusant.

In the UK, foreign language teaching has suffered from years of neglect. The government may regret this now . . .

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.